Friday, October 05, 2007

Drug Court Comes to Alexander City and Loretta Announces Court Watch

Officials in my town met yesterday with drug court representatives to discuss the possibility of forming one for the 5th Judicial Circuit which includes Tallapoosa County.

From The Alexander City Outlook

Officials consider drug court

By Patrick McCreless

Law enforcement and court officials from four counties, including Tallapoosa, gathered in Alexander City Thursday for a singular purpose - to help drug addicts become productive members of society.

The meeting was a chance for the officials to take their first steps toward developing a drug court for the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Tallapoosa, Macon, Chambers and Randolph Counties. Drug court programs have become an increasingly popular way throughout the state and the nation in recent years to affectively curb drug addiction.

"It's good public policy and it's good law enforcement policy," retired Jefferson County Judge Pete Johnson said of drug courts. "We teach them (addicts) to live drug free."

Johnson has been a major proponent of drug courts for years and led the creation of Jefferson County's drug court in 1996.

"I was concerned because I kept seeing the same defendants coming through my court over and over with drug related charges," Johnson said. "We decided we should try to break the drug use and crime cycle."

Drug court is designed for defendants charged with illegal possession of drugs and forged prescription cases who want to live drug free lives. Drug dealers and traffickers are not eligible for the special court.

In typical programs, when a defendant is accepted into drug court he or she enters a plea of guilty. The defendant is then required to return to court at least 15 times for reviews during his year in drug court. Drug treatment, testing, counseling and volunteer work are required for all drug court defendants.

Johnson said defendants who fail a drug test in Jefferson County spend a night in jail. Subsequent relapses cause the defendant to enter more intense drug treatment after a longer jail stay. If treatment and sanctions do not work, the defendant goes to prison.

When a defendant successfully completes drug court, he or she graduates and their conviction is set-aside on recommendation from the district attorney.

"I think it'll be something beneficial," said 5th Judicial Circuit Judge Tom Young. "It'll take these people off the street as drug addicts and create law abiding citizens."

For the few skeptics in the crowd, Johnson came armed with various statistics that indicated the success of Jefferson County's drug court over the past decade.

Since 1996, 4,161 addicts have participated in Jefferson County's drug court. Of those addicts, 2,629 successfully graduated from the program. Only 9 percent of those who graduated from the program relapsed in the last two years.

Drug cost fees paid by the defendants added up to over $3 million. Since its initiation, the Jefferson County drug court has saved taxpayers over $36 million in prison costs.

"I think it's been proven in Jefferson County," said Tallapoosa County Sheriff Jimmy Abbett. "I would support an effort for drug court provided it meets all guidelines previously set up."

Young said he and the other judges in the 5th Judicial Circuit plan to meet in the next 60 days to hash out more of the details for an effective drug court.

"I think this kind of structure is what these people (addicts) need," Young said.

Not too long ago I discussed with the sheriff of Tallapoosa Co. the level of interest in starting a drug court here. He stated that many court officials here were interested but that the main problem was lack of funds. I assume that they have found the funding to get started.

I have a lot of problems with the way this article was written though. First the word addict portrays the inaccurate conclusion that anyone who uses an illicit substance is automatically an addict in need of intervention. That is about as truthful as saying anyone who ever had a drink of wine or a can of beer is an alcoholic in need of intervention. I know scores of people who use an illicit substance, lead productive normal lives complete with nice families, a home, cars and everything else that goes along with leading a productive 'normal' life. Why should people who lead productive normal lives be subjected to forced intervention from law enforcement and the courts simply for possessing an illicit most cases just marijuana?

About a month ago I wrote an LTE that was printed in most of Alabama's major newspapers about the 25 new drug courts and my fears that they would simply round up pot smokers and waste scarce resources by sending them to occupy treatment beds that should be saved for people battling real addiction. You can read that letter HERE.

To ensure that such a thing does not happen I am happy to announce that I have received a grant for the purpose of funding Alabama Court Watch which was created by myself and Ralph Hendrix of UAB TASC. This program will enable us and a group of volunteers to attend drug court sessions to collect information on who is being forced through these programs and what wrap-around services are offered to clients for the outrageous amount of money being extorted from them in order to stay out of jail. Will there be mental health counseling, vocational rehab, help with prescription medications, exceptions on payment amounts for people on SSI Disability, exceptions for people using marijuana in the medical sense and so forth? Or will these programs merely take money from everyone caught with drugs and offer nothing more than mandatory attendance at AA/NA?

I don't think government should be involved in the business of curing addiction. In my opinion it is a private family matter and not to be exploited in order to fill state and county coffers. However, since government insists on being involved I have made it my mission to make sure that for every penny they take they offer something in return.

Drug courts can help people who badly need it...but only if they are run properly with sensible allocation of resources and prioritization of who needs help the most and not who is the largest group of people they can extort money from.

I'll see y'all in court.


Christie O'Brien said...

Yay! I'm so excited about this. Can't wait to get started :)

Anonymous said...

Hi. nice blog.Hopefully, this does not come across as spam, but rather a heartfelt reach out to the thousands of addicts/alcoholics who struggle every year with relapse and depression, which has become all too common within the recovery movement. With some hard work and self-discipline, using the program mentioned above, I feel no one ever has to relapse again.please advice them to take a drug treament program.